The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
This the fifth installment in a series that continues in the Times of Ti the second week of each month.
In the fall commenced our busy season. Cloth was woven for the children's dresses and sent to the mill to be dyed and pressed. The dresses and calico aprons were made, and knitting, which was always on hand, done in odd moments. We went to a shoemaker to be measured for stout shoes for winter wear. We had quilted hoods tied tight down over our ears and well over our faces, with capes to protect the neck. Our dresses came nearly to the tops of our shoes, and we had pantaletts tied on with our stockings below the knee, and they came down over our feet which made us look something like a Shanghi. Our underclothes of woolen came nearly to the bottom of our dresses. We had knit mittens and shawls pinned tightly around our shoulders. Thus equipped, we were ready for school. With our dinner baskets we would wade through snow banks and we thought it great fun.
After the children were made comfortable, food was provided for the winter. There were no markets for meats so there was a time to slaughter. The pigs came first. The pork was salted, hams smoked, head cheese made, intestines cleaned for sausage skins, the sausage meat frozen for convenience, and souse made of the feet, ears, and tails. After the sausage meat was frozen some of us cut the meat in pieces and some chopped it while Mother put it in the skins - this was done by a sausage filler. This was a tin tube about four inches across with a small tube on one end on which the skins were drawn. The meat was put into the tube and a wooden pusher fitted it into links. They were frozen - also a quantity of mince pies.
Mother always beguiled us into thinking we were having a good time and, while we were laboring over some disagreeable job, she told us ghost stories, and while we were listening with our hair standing on end, we were not conscious of our labors. But the ghost was always laid fully to our satisfaction.
After the pigs came the killing of a beef. Part of this was frozen for fresh meat, some salted, some dried and the stomach made into tripe. Then came the turkeys and chickens which were killed and frozen. As our ice house was an unfinished woodshed chamber, a January thaw was a calamity. A fish peddler came occasionally from Boston with fish and oysters. Sometimes Father took turkeys and poultry to Boston and brought something back from the city. He would be away a month, perhaps, driving there and back.
We made our own butter, raised wheat and corn - in fact, everything except sugar, spices, and other grains. Brown sugar and molasses was commonly used in a sugar loaf which was a cone of sugar done up in purply paper and it was so hard that we had to use a knife and hammer to chip it off. But it was always very white and nice and Father always treated us when he brought it home. Spices were never ground but were pounded in mortar; also coffee and salt.
Joan Daby is town of Moriah historian.